- Thirty soup kitchens in Makhanda went from feeding around 6 000 people each day before the pandemic to providing meals for just over 12 000 hungry people.
- Makhanda mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa said the hunger in the town is worsening by the day.
- The Eastern Cape has the highest rate of unemployment in the country at 43.8%.
Soup kitchens offering free hot meals to the poor in Makhanda, Eastern Cape, are struggling to keep up with the demand as queues for food increase daily due to an unemployment triggered by the devastating Covid-19 virus.
The mayor of the town Mzukisi Mpahlwa, the Makana Residents Association, which supports 30 soup kitchens, and social movement Unemployed People's Movement (UPM) told News24 how the pandemic has made things worse in the small town.
Mpahlwa said the problems for Makhanda began when three factories, which were the largest employers in the town, shut doors in recent years.
There was a brick-making firm, a dairy and a bakery, and these closed down and left the town. Covid-19 has worsened things and a few supermarkets and clothing shops have now also closed.
Mpahlwa said social ills were rife in the town in particular alcohol abuse which played a major factor in the growing lines for free food.
Earlier this week, a schoolchild knocked on my door asking for food. This happened at a complex where I stay and the child has parents but they abuse alcohol. I gave her food, rice, vegetables and meat. Some people are working but they prioritise alcohol.
Makana Residents Association's Ntuthu Blow said 30 soup kitchens supported by the association each went from feeding about 200 a day before and during the start of lockdown, to 400 per day currently.
"They are struggling; they run out of bread and some would be forced to make contingency plans such as running to a nearby spaza shop to purchase extra bread or if the shop owner is kind enough, get the loaves of bread for free."
The age group struggling the most are those aged between 35 to 59, revealed Blow.
This group is neglected because at 35, they are too young to get social grant, they have to wait until they are 60. Also they can't apply for leaderships, SAPS or SANDF training because they are considered old. They are just stuck. They really struggle to find employment once they get retrenched.
The Unemployed People's Movement (UPM) in Makhanda feeds 1 200 people each day at its six food stalls.
UPM spokesperson Ayanda Kota said due to hardships brought on by the hard lockdown last year, they are battling to keep up with the demand as queues continue to grow for those in need of meals.
The UMP has been cooking extra meals recently to meet a growing demand - but this had placed a financial strain on the initiative and in some instances, have had to turn as many as 100 people away.
Kota said things had become so dire that some people are bringing lunch boxes, in a bid to take any leftovers home.
Their Fingo Square stall had, in particular, been attracting scores of hungry residents.
"At times we have to turn about 100 people away daily without anything to eat due to a high demand for meals."
The UPM food programmes have been running since last year across the town of Makhanda. However, the latest food programme at Fingo Square, which provides a hot meal to 250 residents, needs more resources because at least 350 people line up for food every day.
The UPM called on the public for help to keep up with the demand.
Kota said the food points were strategically situated in most poverty-stricken areas in Makhanda including in Joza's Vellem Street, Nkanini informal settlement, Phaphamani informal settlement, Transit Camp, Extension 10 and Fingo Square.
The Eastern Cape remained the province with the highest rate of unemployment in the country at 43.8%, followed by Free State at 35.6% and Gauteng at 34.4%.
UPM chairperson Tshezi Soxujwa added:
This country has very high food instability and insecurity so this is one of our projects to fight poverty and combat hunger which is a product of the system that is failing us. We don't want to be seen as political parties who do nothing for our people. We believe that there should be something practical that we should be doing to combat the problem of food insecurity.
He added: "The black working class is swimming in a sea of poverty and inequalities. These are just interventions to provide the bare minimum, a signal of hope to keep and strengthen the chains of humanity. We need to keep going, the odds are against us, the world is shutting down on us. We need to form the human chains of solidarity."
The UPM food programme was made possible with the support from Oxfam South Africa and the South African Development Fund.
Kota said while the social movement was grateful for the support from the two organisations, any donations would be welcome.